Backyard chickens, eggs and Salmonella: Are you at risk?

Updated: 27 November 2022

This article was first written in June 2020, following concern from many of my readers about a Salmonella outbreak in Australia, some of which was linked to backyard chickens. 

I hope to reassure you that with simple food handling and sensible hand washing, you can significantly reduce the chance of you or your family becoming sick with Salmonella. 

Don’t be frightened of your kids touching the chickens! Just practice basic hygiene. 

Salmonella and backyard chickens. What's the real risk?

Since 2020, we've seen a huge surge in backyard chickens, and therefore backyard eggs. It's a timely reminder that foods containing raw eggs such as egg-based mayonnaise and cake batter can transmit Salmonella to people. Poultry meat is a bigger risk than eggs, but Salmonella can also be carried in manure and in the environment

What is Salmonella?

We’ve all heard of Salmonella at some time in our lives. But what is it?

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a type of gastroenteritis (or 'gastro'). It is caused by Salmonella bacteria. In Australia, most infections occur after people eat contaminated food.

The good news is I'm here to help you learn how to prevent Salmonella in chickens, their eggs, and your family.

You’ll also enjoy the healthiest, tastiest, and most ethically-produced eggs possible from your healthy, happy hens. 

What are the chances of catching Salmonella from my chickens?

Salmonella can be carried in the environment, in manure, in poultry meat, and even eggs.

Healthy chickens and sensible hygiene will help keep you safe.

There is much less chance of contamination in eggs than in poultry meat, but that does not mean there's no chance.

For backyard chicken owners, dirty nesting boxes (think wet winters), egg collection, and storage are risks for Salmonella transmission through eggs. 

The "cuticle" - an egg's natural defence against bacteria

Eggs have a shell (obviously!), but the cuticle is the outermost layer of an egg and its natural defence against bacteria.

Eggs are laid warm and slightly wet. The cuticle sets as the egg dries. The cuticle is what gives eggs their shine and seals an egg. 

Poultry expert and editor of Australasian Poultry, Megg Miller describes it as being like a lacquer - it goes on last, protects the egg, and gives it its natural shine.

How can Salmonella spread to people through chicken eggs?

Salmonella may be found in the yolk or on the shell. 

In very rare scenarios Salmonella can enter the yolk as the egg is forming in the body of an infected hen. It’s a small risk; however, one Salmonella case in 2020 was linked to a chicken from a commercial egg farm west of Melbourne. 

When talking about Salmonella spreading through eggs, far more commonly, bacteria penetrate the eggshell

Because eggs are laid warm and slightly wet, as they cool, the contents contract like a little sponge, and any Salmonella bacteria on the surface of the shell can potentially enter the egg.

So if chickens lay eggs in a dirty nest, the cuticle can't protect the egg.

Removing the cuticle through soaking or scrubbing eggs can also increase your risk of Salmonella.

How to reduce the risk of Salmonella in backyard chickens

Elise McNamara chicken consultant

There are many ways you can easily prevent infection. In my opinion, eggs from healthy backyard hens that are well-fed and in clean surroundings pose less of a Salmonella risk than store-bought eggs. The low risk of Salmonella is certainly no reason to hold you back from getting a backyard flock.

I’m here to reassure you that you can significantly reduce the chance of you or your family becoming sick with Salmonella by following simple food handling and sensible hand washing. 

Here are my top tips - 

  • Always wash your hands after any contact with chicken manure, chicken coop cleaning, and chicken duties in general, and teach kids to do the same. 
  • Keep nesting boxes clean. Do not allow chickens to sleep in nesting boxes and soil them.
  • Change the nesting box litter regularly.
  • Collect eggs regularly, at least daily. Don't allow them to build up and risk them becoming cracked or dirty. 
  • Separate clean eggs from dirty eggs. Discard cracked, broken eggs, seriously dirty or soiled eggs instantly. It's not worth the risk.
  • Don't feed your chicken off or mouldy food especially expired meats which can be a source of Salmonella.

Can you get Salmonella from backyard chickens?

How to safely clean eggs for home use 


  • Always wash your hands after any contact with chicken manure, chicken coop cleaning, and chicken duties in general, and teach kids to do the same. 
  • Clean the egg by buffing them with a clean abrasive pad. Some small egg farms that don't have an egg washing machine use an "Eco Eraser" to scuff the dirt.
  • You can also use a warm, damp (not soaking) cloth to wipe the eggs. But The NSW Food Authority says "only a thin layer of moisture that can readily evaporate should be visible on the egg surface".  Use a clean part of the cloth for each egg.
  • Store eggs in a clean carton or container. Egg farms cannot reuse egg cartons, as they can harbour bacteria from manure or broken eggs.
  • Refrigerate clean eggs promptly after cleaning. 


  • Don't soak dirty eggs in water. Doing so (cold water is the worst) creates a permeable barrier, ripe for bacteria to enter the egg. 
  • Don't refrigerate eggs BEFORE cleaning. The eggshell will contract and may pull any dirt or bacteria from the egg’s surface into the pores when cooled. Egg farms store eggs below 15 °C (with 75% humidity) before cleaning. We also don't want condensation on the egg’s surface (which happens when you go from cold storage to a warm room) as this can help bacteria cross the shell into the egg. 


Can you get Salmonella from hugging chickens?

Your risk of catching Salmonella from hugging chickens is extremely low. Always wash your hands after any contact with chicken manure, chicken coop cleaning, and chicken duties in general, and teach your kids to do the same.


I hope this article has helped you learn how to avoid Salmonella with backyard chickens. Enjoy your chooks. The health benefits of keeping chickens far outweigh any health risks. Drop a comment below, tag me on Instagram or Facebook, or send me an email -

Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshopsonline programsphone coaching, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.

Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now! 


Other Resources

The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow

Egg Signals A Practical Guide To Improving Egg Quality

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

NSW Food Authority 

Producing safe eggs at home fact sheet - Salmonella

Previous article Are Australorps the best layers?
Next article What is shell grit and why do your backyard chickens need it?

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields